Time for the STATE to appear after AMISOM military successes
By Liban Obsiye & Sakariye Hussein
Tuesday, April 22, 2014 – Mareeg.com-A few weeks ago as the AMISOM troops announced to the world that they had recaptured many former AlShabaab controlled cities and regions in Somalia such as Bulo Bude and Qoryooley their mood was evidently self-congratulatory. Somali Ministers heaped praise on them and triumphant and moving images of AMISOM patrols in these newly recaptured areas were projected to the world. The Somali people, while quietly relieved, were more sceptical and could only manage a nervous smile at best.
It is not that the Somali people at home, in the Diaspora and those physically liberated are ungrateful nor is it that they do not see the enormity of this military success after 5 years of AlShabaab ownership of Qoryooley, a city only 120 kilometres from Mogadishu, the nation’s capital. The symbolism is obvious but what the Somali people and residents of these newly liberated areas have little confidence in is AMISOM and the Somali government’s ability to hold on to these spaces and to develop it with partners in a way that would create sustainable peace and win the hearts and minds of locals. What they probably have never considered is that the Somali State and its representatives will follow AMISOM and start putting in place systems and processes to deliver the basic public services a state owes its nationals even if it is providing free drinking water.
The Somali people living under AlShabaab rule most probably did not enjoy it but very few interviewed were willing to condemn them openly in the media. With a history of easily losing gained ground and poor development aid co-ordination, AMISOM, aid agencies and the infant Somali state do not inspire the kind of lasting overall confidence for residents and the wider Somali population to dare to banish Alshabaab from their minds even in times of victory and their physical absence.
Many articles, academic journals and commentators have been swept by the whirlwind view that AlShabaab are on their knees and all AMISOM have to do is to apply the Samurai’s blade to chop of the head and end this scourge on the Somali people and their neighbours in the horn of Africa once and for all. They have lost public support through their barbaric actions and arrogance, they are divided ideologically and have less places to hide and organise and launch attacks from. AlShabaab is also losing the PR war it was once able to win with the “Muslim brother fighting an invading force” narrative as easily as the ground battles. However, while all this is true to a large extent, Alshabaab are far from eradicated and they have changed tactics and enlarged the battle field to include Kenya where they claimed to have carried out the horrifying Westgate Mall massacre and the recent bombings in the shopping district of Eastleigh.
While the AMISOM troops alongside the Somali officers they’ve been training are improving in operations and growing in confidence they do not have the resources, time and know how to, like the American’s under General Petraus in Afghanistan, devise, coordinate and execute the Clear, Hold and Develop strategy that linked security, development and institutional and human capacity building together. Critics would argue that even as Afghanis have voted in a free and fair election last week, the security is still dependent on Allied Forces and that the Taliban are just around the corner waiting to attack the weak national institutions that have come into existence such as the national army. But this is not to say that, even if the General Petraus’ strategy did not fully work and experienced operational implementation obstacles that, this endeavour should not be under taken. While Afghanistan and Somalia are in different continents and have vastly different history, they are today among the few former failed states that are now been resuscitated by the international community interest in confronting those that harm their security and business interest at home and abroad.
The current Afghani and Somali governments are limping along resting on the shoulders of their international partner giants such as America and the European Union but if they are to ever to become a fully functioning state with widespread followership, this reliance must be seen as short term and the State must start to appear and serve its people.
The Somali state prior to State collapse after the civil war in 1991, had gone through various phases. Its ideological nature is easy to name in text books but not easy to understand from every day interactions between State and citizens. Even while Somalia went through a Socialist phase under Siad Barre, private business and small traders were booming and ill regulated. However, the Somali state from independence in 1960 to its tragic collapse had institutions, protocols and respected hierarchies in its administration. Its government departments made law, engaged with the wider world, provided free public services such as education up to university, healthcare and infrastructure building. There was law and order with a fully functioning and respected police force although the courts may not have been so impartial. The Somali states relationship with its people was special in that while in other African states like Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria the ideological wind changed regulations and impacted on the population directly, the Somali state always allowed for enterprise and facilitated individual ambition even under the Socialism flag.
The State under Siad Barre while it was enabling in most instances, did not allow for opposition and had limited engagement with the public apart from when they were singing Siad Barre’s praises but this was the norm in all Dictatorships and it is still the practice today. After the break out of the civil war, the state vanished and armed, tribal militia men took over it and in many instances carved out the territories that today want either to be Federal State such as Puntland or an independent nation such as Somaliland. The arrival of President Hassan Sheikh’s government was much welcomed since it was the end of a revolving door policy of recruiting leaders with the most weapons and who controlled the largest neighbourhoods in Mogadishu and elsewhere. The Somali people, through the period of State collapse, had either sought asylum elsewhere in the world or remained and had not seen the State in any form since its collapse since 1991. For a brief period in 2006, the Islamic Courts Union led by the later President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed cleared Mogadishu out of the much hated, ruthless and greedy warlords and restored law and order to the point that those whose lands were illegally confiscated were legally been reimbursed or returning to them. However, this ended with the Ethiopian invasion which drove out the Islamic Courts Union in the same year before it had an opportunity to move towards what could have perhaps been state building. Puntland and Somailand, the break away self declared independent state maybe able to argue differently but in the true sense of the term State, there has been none in Somalia, Somaliland or Puntland. Some places may have been more peaceful than others but the State has not recovered since the fall of Siad Barre’s government.
The Present Somali government led by Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is desperate to be seen and respected as a fully functioning state. At present this wider political legitimacy goal hinges on talks with regional governments such as Puntland. On a more micro personal level though, as AMISOM and the Somali trained troops win more vital territories back from AlShabaab, the infant Somali state must take the opportunity to once again appear and demolish the fear of AlShabaab from the people’s minds through positive action and lasting change. This winning of hearts and minds cannot be done alone at present as the Somali government itself is working hard to build its own institutional capacity. However, with partners and in a Multi Agency cooperation and aid coordination, the dream of rebuilding the legitimacy of the State in people’s minds who have often grown up without it, is one that can be achieved.
The Somali governments of the past, although they had missed many great opportunities to rebuild the State, did not arguably have the desire, mandate or the international support to act. Today all of these three key ingredients are present but they need vision, partnership, leadership and the ability to listen and engage the Somali people at all levels to come to execute and begin the process of genuinely rebuilding the state rather than simply talking about doing it. The lofty ideological privilege of debating whether Somali needs a big or small state is one that will come in time and this will be negotiated between the Somali citizens and their representatives. What the suffering Somali people who have endured nearly three decades of continuous civil war need now is a government that simply introduce a State to them that can provide support and basic services such as security, food and water. With the international support, AMISOM military presence, improving human capital and aid agencies available today, there is not a better opportunity since the collapse of government in 1991.
In time the Somali government maybe able to control the entire policy process from agenda setting to implementation and evaluation but at present it must work in partnership to establish itself. The argument that Somalia is not free to make its own choices is valid but which nation is in this globalised interdependent world? The Somali people, its representatives and its future State can only genuinely be free to chart their own cause to a certain degree in this age even if they possessed all the wealth and influence of America. However, for any State to function and flourish there needs to be strong institutions, security, law and order, taxation as well as enterprise and commerce. This may come in the future but it is for the State to facilitate it all. The road ahead is long and the expectations are high.